Whatever the noise from Westminster, for millions of people Brexit is something that happened two and a half years ago. It has since become synonymous with an indecipherable cacophony about cabinet splits, customs unions and the kind of arcana that might convulse Twitter but leaves most people cold. Clearly, this highlights a huge political failure – not least on the part of the supposed party of opposition – and a debate so distant from the public that any resolution of the country’s malaise seems pretty much impossible.
To outsiders, it must look like a kind of bizarre collective decadence: a watershed moment, replete with huge dangers, that will define our future for decades to come, being played out in the midst of widespread public boredom. Some of this is undoubtedly down to the fact that the realities of Brexit, whether with a deal or without, have yet to arrive. But much deeper things are at play: age-old traits that run particularly deep in England, and much newer changes in how politics reaches its audience.
For both good and ill, England has long been a country where the revolution starts after the next pint, most politicians are viewed with scepticism, and the national motto might as well be “Anything for a quiet life”. The vote for Brexit appeared to momentarily break the rules, but it was only a cross in a box, and it did not take long for people to revert to type. And now we find ourselves in the worst of all worlds: carrying out an act of self-harm we are told is the people’s will, when millions of the same people seem to have all but switched off.
Popular disengagement is made worse by the speed at which information now pours into people’s lives, and a political culture where day-to-day politics amounts to white noise, anything and everything might be fake news, and precious little seems to acquire any traction. Anyone who has had Brexit arguments with friends or relatives will probably recognise the essential story, enacted whenever some or other representative of an industry or profession that has much to fear appears on the television to warn of the consequences of exiting the EU only to elicit the crushingly predictable response: “That’s just an opinion.” [Continue reading…]